Nova watches the rain trickle down the window pane as the spices from the kitchen waft up to the second-floor bedroom just right of the staircase. Fat drops of water slide down the glass in opposing directions, colliding and sliding together to the wooden sill at the bottom of the glass. Outside the sky is gray; the mist rolls in from the horizon and settles placidly near the lampposts and dew-crusted park benches.
There are numbers of various sizes and shapes that float through Nova’s mind, pushing at her skull and pressing at her temples. The same number repeats itself, fifty-two, fifty-two, fifty-two. The number fifty-two floats around in the galaxy of static thoughts in her mind and she presses her fingertips together.
Fifty-two more days until her father comes home.
Somewhere amid the numbers and the static there is a bright color. It jabs and pushes away the fuzz in her mind and Nova focuses on it, letting the color envelop her. It is her mother’s voice, calling from the kitchen.
She stands up, brushing the dust off of her earthy brown skirt made of crepe, an old weave textile. Her feet patter against the steps; Nova thinks of the raindrops that patter against the upstairs window.
She and her mother eat together around the round table while wild mint and juniper drift from the potted herbs on the kitchen windowsill. The lights in the kitchen cast rosy glows on their skin, and the potted candle in the center of the table flickers and shines.
There is an empty chair to the right of Nova and it is the same empty chair that is to the left of her mother.
Fifty-two more days, Nova thinks carefully to herself.
Other days, it does not feel the same. The empty chair is casually ignored, the elephant in the room pushed out of the front door and into the empty neighborhood streets. On these days, Nova does not remember that there is an empty chair, another person. She does not remember what it feels like to have a third member of the family.
Fifty-two days pass.
The door to the house opens; her father walks inside. Nova is upstairs when it happens, gazing at the window with the rain that taps softly against the glass. The rain has slowed to a faint drizzle, a spray of water that specks the glass into millions of fractals of drops.
When Nova is called downstairs, it is her father’s voice she hears. She slides down the stairs, two steps at a time, and wraps her arms around him, hugging him tightly. His green uniform is scratchy and tough against her face. His own face is wrinkled yet overjoyed.
Nova sits down to eat with her mother and her father. It is odd to have no missing chairs, and she delves deeper into her mind for comfort. There are no numbers. It is strange. The patterns are disrupted; she doesn’t know what to think.
Her father stays for a week. Nova becomes used to the third chair that is always filled, the father who drives her to school, the father who cooks her breakfast and sometimes dinner. She laughs, and she smiles, and she hugs her mother and father in happiness every night before she goes to bed.
Somewhere in her mind there is the number seven. Seven, seven, seven. Seven more days until he must leave.
When seven days pass and her father is gone, Nova sits at the dinner table, her eyes focusing on the empty chair. It feels wrong for it to be there, with its wooden frame and mismatched paint. Her father should be there, sitting aside her, laughing and talking with her.
Nova returns to her room, where the rain slides against the window. She cannot see the individual drops that illuminate with moonlight. She reaches over to draw the curtains; it is late.
As she lies in bed with the covers tucked up to her chin, she delves into her mind of numbers and static and color and fuzz. She searches for numbers. Her mind is empty; she does not know when he will return home. There are no numbers within her reach.
Drew Shinozaki lives in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, where she attends Palos Verdes Peninsula High School as a freshman. This will be her first publication.